by Charles M. Blow

The first thing I can remember buying for myself, aside from candy, of course, was not a toy. It was a book.

It was a religious picture book about Job from the Bible, bought at Kmart.

It was on one of the rare occasions when my mother had enough money to give my brothers and me each a few dollars so that we could buy whatever we wanted.

We all made a beeline for the toy aisle, but that path led through the section of greeting cards and books. As I raced past the children’s books, they stopped me. Books to me were things most special. Magical. Ideas eternalized.

Books were the things my brothers brought home from school before I was old enough to attend, the things that engrossed them late into the night as they did their homework. They were the things my mother brought home from her evening classes, which she attended after work, to earn her degree and teaching certificate.

Books, to me, were powerful and transformational.

So there, in the greeting card section of the store, I flipped through children’s books until I found the one that I wanted, the one about Job. I thought the book fascinating in part because it was a tale of hardship, to which I could closely relate, and in part because it contained the first drawing I’d even seen of God, who in those pages was a white man with a white beard and a long robe that looked like one of my mother’s nightgowns.

I picked up the book, held it close to my chest and walked proudly to the checkout. I never made it to the toy aisle.

That was the beginning of a lifelong journey in which books would shape and change me, making me who I was to become.

We couldn’t afford many books. We had a small collection. They were kept on a homemade, rough-hewn bookcase about three feet tall with three shelves. One shelf held the encyclopedia, a gift from our uncle, books that provided my brothers and me a chance to see the world without leaving home.

The other shelves held a hodgepodge of books, most of which were giveaways my mother picked when school librarians thinned their collections at the end of the year. I read what we had and cherished the days that our class at school was allowed to go to the library — a space I approached the way most people approach religious buildings — and the days when the bookmobile came to our school from the regional library.

It is no exaggeration to say that those books saved me: from a life of poverty, stress, depression and isolation.

James Baldwin, one of the authors who most spoke to my spirit, once put it this way:

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me the most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

That is the inimitable power of literature, to give context and meaning to the trials and triumphs of living. That is why it was particularly distressing that The Atlantic’s Jordan Weissmann pointed out Tuesday that:

“The Pew Research Center reported last week that nearly a quarter of American adults had not read a single book in the past year. As in, they hadn’t cracked a paperback, fired up a Kindle, or even hit play on an audiobook while in the car. The number of non-book-readers has nearly tripled since 1978.”

The details of the Pew report are quite interesting and somewhat counterintuitive. Among American adults, women were more likely to have read at least one book in the last 12 months than men. Blacks were more likely to have read a book than whites or Hispanics. People aged 18-29 were more likely to have read a book than those in any other age group. And there was little difference in readership among urban, suburban and rural population.

I understand that we are now inundated with information, and people’s reading habits have become fragmented to some degree by bite-size nuggets of text messages and social media, and that takes up much of the time that could otherwise be devoted to long-form reading. I get it. And I don’t take a troglodytic view of social media. I participate and enjoy it.

But reading texts is not the same as reading a text.

There is no intellectual equivalent to allowing oneself the time and space to get lost in another person’s mind, because in so doing we find ourselves.

Take it from me, the little boy walking to the Kmart checkout with the picture book pressed to his chest.

MORE than a decade into the 21st century, we would like to think that American parents have similar standards and similar dreams for their sons and daughters. But my study of anonymous, aggregate data from Google searches suggests that contemporary American parents are far more likely to want their boys smart and their girls skinny.

It’s not that parents don’t want their daughters to be bright or their sons to be in shape, but they are much more focused on the braininess of their sons and the waistlines of their daughters.

Start with intelligence. It’s hardly surprising that parents of young children are often excited at the thought that their child may be gifted. In fact, of all Google searches starting “Is my 2-year-old,” the most common next word is “gifted.” But this question is not asked equally about young boys and young girls. Parents are two and a half times more likely to ask “Is my son gifted?” than “Is my daughter gifted?” Parents show a similar bias when using other phrases related to intelligence that they may shy away from saying aloud, like, “Is my son a genius?”

Are parents picking up on legitimate differences between young girls and boys? Perhaps young boys are more likely than young girls to use big words or otherwise show objective signs of giftedness? Nope. If anything, it’s the opposite. At young ages, when parents most often search about possible giftedness, girls have consistently been shown to have larger vocabularies and use more complex sentences. In American schools, girls are 11 percent more likely than boys to be in gifted programs. Despite all this, parents looking around the dinner table appear to see more gifted boys than girls.

Parents were more likely to ask about sons rather than daughters on every matter that I tested related to intelligence, including its absence. There are more searches for “is my son behind” or “stupid” than comparable searches for daughters. Searches with negative words like “stupid” and “behind,” however, are less skewed toward sons than searches with positive words.

What concerns do parents disproportionately have for their daughters? Primarily, anything related to appearance. Consider questions about a child’s weight. Parents Google “Is my daughter overweight?” roughly twice as frequently as they Google “Is my son overweight?” Just as with giftedness, this gender bias is not grounded in reality. About 30 percent of girls are overweight, while 33 percent of boys are. Even though scales measure more overweight boys than girls, parents see — or worry about — overweight girls much more often than overweight boys.

Parents are about twice as likely to ask how to get their daughters to lose weight as they are to ask how to get their sons to do the same. Google search data also tell us that mothers and fathers are more likely to wonder whether their daughter is “beautiful” or “ugly.”

Parents are one and a half times more likely to ask whether their daughter is beautiful than whether their son is, but they are nearly three times more likely to ask whether their daughter is ugly than whether their son is ugly. How Google is expected to know whether a child is beautiful or ugly is hard to say.

In general, parents seem more likely to use positive words in questions about sons. There is a larger bias toward asking whether sons are “tall” than “short.” Parents are more likely to ask whether a son is “happy” and slightly more likely to ask whether a daughter is “depressed.”

Liberal readers may imagine that these biases are more common in conservative parts of the country. Not so. I did not find a significant relationship between any of the biases mentioned and the political or cultural makeup of a state. These biases appear to cut across ideological divisions. In fact, I was unable to find any demographics that significantly reduced the biases. Nor is there evidence that these biases have decreased since 2004, the year for which Google search data is first available.

This methodology can also be used to study gender preference before birth. Every year, Americans make hundreds of thousands of searches asking how to conceive a child of a particular sex. In searches with the words “how to conceive,” Americans are slightly more likely to include the word “boy” than “girl.” Among the subset of Americans Googling for specific gender conception strategies, there is about a 10 percent preference for boys compared with girls.

This boy preference is surprising for two reasons. First, the top websites returned for these queries are overwhelmingly geared toward women, suggesting that women are most often making gender conception searches. Yet in surveys, women express a slight preference for having girls, not boys; men say they prefer sons. Second, many Americans are willing to admit a gender preference to even out a family. About 5 percent more boys are born than girls in the United States, so evening out a family would more often require having a girl, not a boy. Are men searching for conception advice in large numbers? Are women searching on their husbands’ behalf? Or do some American women have a son preference that they are not comfortable admitting to surveys?

Other countries exhibit very large preferences in favor of boys. In India, for each search asking how to conceive a girl, there are three-and-a-half asking how to conceive a boy. With such an overwhelming preference for boys, it is not surprising that there are millions fewer women in India than population scientists would predict.

Clearly there is more to learn. Because this data make it easy to compare different countries over time, for example, we might examine whether these gender preferences change after a woman is elected to run a country.

The disturbing results outlined here leave us with many open questions, but the most poignant may be this one: How would American girls’ lives be different if parents were half as concerned with their bodies and twice as intrigued by their minds?


The story of how Danny and I were married last July in a Manhattan courtroom, with our son, Kevin, beside us, began 12 years earlier, in a dark, damp subway station.

Danny called me that day, frantic. “I found a baby!” he shouted. “I called 911, but I don’t think they believed me. No one’s coming. I don’t want to leave the baby alone. Get down here and flag down a police car or something.” By nature Danny is a remarkably calm person, so when I felt his heart pounding through the phone line, I knew I had to run.

When I got to the A/C/E subway exit on Eighth Avenue, Danny was still there, waiting for help to arrive. The baby, who had been left on the ground in a corner behind the turnstiles, was light-brown skinned and quiet, probably about a day old, wrapped in an oversize black sweatshirt.

In the following weeks, after family court had taken custody of “Baby ACE,” as he was nicknamed, Danny told the story over and over again, first to every local TV news station, then to family members, friends, co-workers and acquaintances. The story spread like an urban myth: You’re never going to believe what my friend’s cousin’s co-worker found in the subway. What neither of us knew, or could have predicted, was that Danny had not just saved an abandoned infant; he had found our son.

Three months later, Danny appeared in family court to give an account of finding the baby. Suddenly, the judge asked, “Would you be interested in adopting this baby?” The question stunned everyone in the courtroom, everyone except for Danny, who answered, simply, “Yes.”

“But I know it’s not that easy,” he said.

“Well, it can be,” assured the judge before barking out orders to commence with making him and, by extension, me, parents-to-be.

My first reaction, when I heard, went something like: “Are you insane? How could you say yes without consulting me?” Let’s just say, I nailed the “jerk” part of knee-jerk.

In three years as a couple, we had never discussed adopting a child. Why would we? Our lives were not geared for child rearing. I was an aspiring playwright working as a part-time word processor and Danny was a respected yet wildly underpaid social worker. We had a roommate sleeping behind a partition in our living room to help pay the rent. Even if our financial and logistical circumstances had been different, we knew how many challenges gay couples usually faced when they want to adopt. And while Danny had patience and selflessness galore, I didn’t. I didn’t know how to change a diaper, let alone nurture a child.

But here was fate, practically giving us a baby. How could we refuse? Eventually, my fearful mind spent, my heart seized control to assure me I could handle parenthood.

A caseworker arranged for us to meet the baby at his foster home in early December. Danny held the fragile baby first, then placed him in my arms. In order to protect myself from future heartache, I had convinced myself I could not, and would not, become inextricably attached. I didn’t trust the system and was sure there would be obstacles. But with the baby’s eyes staring up at me, and all the innocence and hope he represented, I, like Danny, was completely hooked.

The caseworker told us that the process, which included an extensive home study and parenting classes, could take up to nine months. We’d have ample time to rearrange our lives and home for a baby. But a week later, when Danny and I appeared in front of the judge to officially state our intention to adopt, she asked, “Would you like him for the holiday?”

What holiday? Memorial Day? Labor Day? She couldn’t have meant Christmas, which was only a few days away.

And yet, once again, in unison this time, we said yes. The judge grinned and ordered the transition of the baby into our custody. Our nine-month window of thoughtful preparation was instantly compacted to a mere 36 hours. We were getting a baby for Christmas.

We spent that year as foster parents while our caseworker checked up on us and the baby’s welfare. During that time we often wondered about the judge. Did she know Danny was a social worker and therefore thought he would make a good parent? Would she have asked him to adopt if she knew Danny was gay and in a relationship? At the final hearing, after she had signed the official adoption order, I raised my hand. “Your honor, we’ve been wondering why you asked Danny if he was interested in adopting?”

“I had a hunch,” she just said. “Was I wrong?” And with that she rose from her chair, congratulated us, and exited the courtroom.

And that was how we left it, as Baby ACE became Kevin, and grew from an infant to a boy. That is, until 2011, when New York State allowed Danny and me to legally marry.

“Why don’t you ask the judge who performed my adoption to marry you and Dad?” Kevin suggested one morning on our walk to school.

“Great idea,” I replied. “Would you like to meet her?”

“Sure. Think she’d remember me?”

“There’s only one way to find out.”

After dropping Kevin off, I composed a query letter and sent it to the catchall e-mail address listed for the Manhattan family court. Within hours, a court attorney called to say that, of course, the judge remembered us, and was thrilled by the idea of officiating our marriage. All we had to do was pick a date and time.

When we ventured back to family court for the first time in over 10 years, I imagined that the judge might be nervous to come face to face with the results of one of her placement decisions — what if Kevin wasn’t happy and wished he had different parents? Kevin was nervous too. When he was a toddler, Danny and I made him a storybook that explained how we became a family, and it included an illustration of the judge, gavel in hand. A character from his book was about to jump off the page as a real person. What if she didn’t approve of the way he turned out?

Kevin reached out to shake her hand.

“Can I give you hug?” she asked. When they separated, the judge asked Kevin about school, his interests, hobbies, friends and expressed her delight that we were there.

When we finally remembered the purpose of the visit, and Danny and I moved into position to exchange vows, I reflected on the improbable circumstances that delivered all of us to this moment. We weren’t supposed to be there, two men, with a son we had never dreamed of by our side, getting married by a woman who changed and enriched our lives more than she would ever know. But there we were, thanks to a fateful discovery and a judicious hunch.

Peter Mercurio is a playwright and screenwriter whose latest screenplay is “Found (a True Story).”



ATLANTA — The college degree is becoming the new high school diploma: the new minimum requirement, albeit an expensive one, for getting even the lowest-level job.

Consider the 45-person law firm of Busch, Slipakoff & Schuh here in Atlanta, a place that has seen tremendous growth in the college-educated population. Like other employers across the country, the firm hires only people with a bachelor’s degree, even for jobs that do not require college-level skills.

This prerequisite applies to everyone, including the receptionist, paralegals, administrative assistants and file clerks. Even the office “runner” — the in-house courier who, for $10 an hour, ferries documents back and forth between the courthouse and the office — went to a four-year school.

“College graduates are just more career-oriented,” said Adam Slipakoff, the firm’s managing partner. “Going to college means they are making a real commitment to their futures. They’re not just looking for a paycheck.”

Economists have referred to this phenomenon as “degree inflation,” and it has been steadily infiltrating America’s job market. Across industries and geographic areas, many other jobs that didn’t used to require a diploma — positions like dental hygienists, cargo agents, clerks and claims adjusters — are increasingly requiring one, according to Burning Glass, a company that analyzes job ads from more than 20,000 online sources, including major job boards and small- to midsize-employer sites.

This up-credentialing is pushing the less educated even further down the food chain, and it helps explain why the unemployment rate for workers with no more than a high school diploma is more than twice that for workers with a bachelor’s degree: 8.1 percent versus 3.7 percent.

Some jobs, like those in supply chain management and logistics, have become more technical, and so require more advanced skills today than they did in the past. But more broadly, because so many people are going to college now, those who do not graduate are often assumed to be unambitious or less capable.

Plus, it’s a buyer’s market for employers.

“When you get 800 résumés for every job ad, you need to weed them out somehow,” said Suzanne Manzagol, executive recruiter at Cardinal Recruiting Group, which does headhunting for administrative positions at Busch, Slipakoff & Schuh and other firms in the Atlanta area.

Of all the metropolitan areas in the United States, Atlanta has had one of the largest inflows of college graduates in the last five years, according to an analysis of census data by William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. In 2012, 39 percent of job postings for secretaries and administrative assistants in the Atlanta metro area requested a bachelor’s degree, up from 28 percent in 2007, according to Burning Glass.

“When I started recruiting in ’06, you didn’t need a college degree, but there weren’t that many candidates,” Ms. Manzagol said.

Even if they are not exactly applying the knowledge they gained in their political science, finance and fashion marketing classes, the young graduates employed by Busch, Slipakoff & Schuh say they are grateful for even the rotest of rote office work they have been given.

“It sure beats washing cars,” said Landon Crider, 24, the firm’s soft-spoken runner.

He would know: he spent several years, while at Georgia State and in the months after graduation, scrubbing sedans at Enterprise Rent-a-Car. Before joining the law firm, he was turned down for a promotion to rental agent at Enterprise — a position that also required a bachelor’s degree — because the company said he didn’t have enough sales experience.

His college-educated colleagues had similarly limited opportunities, working at Ruby Tuesday or behind a retail counter while waiting for a better job to open up.

“I am over $100,000 in student loan debt right now,” said Megan Parker, who earns $37,000 as the firm’s receptionist. She graduated from the Art Institute of Atlanta in 2011 with a degree in fashion and retail management, and spent months waiting on “bridezillas” at a couture boutique, among other stores, while churning out office-job applications.

“I will probably never see the end of that bill, but I’m not really thinking about it right now,” she said. “You know, this is a really great place to work.”

The risk with hiring college graduates for jobs they are supremely overqualified for is, of course, that they will leave as soon as they find something better, particularly as the economy improves.

Mr. Slipakoff said his firm had little turnover, though, largely because of its rapid expansion. The company has grown to more than 30 lawyers from five in 2008, plus a support staff of about 15, and promotions have abounded.

“They expect you to grow, and they want you to grow,” said Ashley Atkinson, who graduated from Georgia Southern University in 2009 with a general studies degree. “You’re not stuck here under some glass ceiling.”

Within a year of being hired as a file clerk, around Halloween 2011, Ms. Atkinson was promoted twice to positions in marketing and office management. Mr. Crider, the runner, was given additional work last month, helping with copying and billing claims. He said he was taking the opportunity to learn more about the legal industry, since he plans to apply to law school next year.

The firm’s greatest success story is Laura Burnett, who in less than a year went from being a file clerk to being the firm’s paralegal for the litigation group. The partners were so impressed with her filing wizardry that they figured she could handle it.

“They gave me a raise, too,” said Ms. Burnett, a 2011 graduate of the University of West Georgia.

The typical paralegal position, which has traditionally offered a path to a well-paying job for less educated workers, requires no more than an associate degree, according to the Labor Department’s occupational handbook, but the job is still a step up from filing. Of the three daughters in her family, Ms. Burnett reckons that she has the best job. One sister, a fellow West Georgia graduate, is processing insurance claims; another, who dropped out of college, is one of the many degree-less young people who still cannot find work.

Besides the promotional pipelines it creates, setting a floor of college attainment also creates more office camaraderie, said Mr. Slipakoff, who handles most of the firm’s hiring and is especially partial to his fellow University of Florida graduates. There is a lot of trash-talking of each other’s college football teams, for example. And this year the office’s Christmas tree ornaments were a colorful menagerie of college mascots — GatorsBlue DevilsYellow JacketsWolvesEaglesTigersPanthers — in which just about every staffer’s school was represented.

“You know, if we had someone here with just a G.E.D. or something, I can see how they might feel slighted by the social atmosphere here,” he says. “There really is something sort of cohesive or binding about the fact that all of us went to college.”


MY childhood tasted of bland roast chicken and canned crescent rolls — starchy fare that typically came out of a box, plopped on our plates by our tireless working mom. Dining out usually meant wielding our trays down the line at Luby’s Cafeteria in San Antonio for mashed potatoes and a factory-cut square of fried fish, with a clover-shaped dinner roll on the side.

So how did we end up here, crammed around a corner table at Pizzeria Delfina in San Francisco this summer, arguing over whether we should order a second bottle of a primitivo from Apulia? The meal began with my sister and me offering Mom $80 to try the fried pigs’ ears with chile oil (they’re heavenly; she refused) and ended with Dad trying his best to swallow the sticker shock of the $300-plus bill. (“For pizza!”)

In the decade since my sister and I left South Texas and adopted the palates that come with our respective coastal cities, San Francisco and New York, meals for my family — and, I discovered, many others like ours — have become a source of tension, a stark reminder of the generational red food-blue food divide.

It’s as if each time my family sits down together for a meal, all the cultural differences from the place we came from (land of chain restaurants, big-box grocery stores and drive-throughs) and the places we ended up (lands of Michelin stars, artisanal cheese and locally farm-raised you-name-it) bubble to the surface like the yeast in my sister’s favorite sour batard bread.

Eating together inevitably leads to a long list of proscribed cuisines that are either too spicy (Indian) or too rich (French) or just too New York (brunch). Our mom, always eager to please, recently declared that she loved sushi, “just not the raw stuff.” The morning after Delfina, over dim sum at Yank Sing, an epic family fight broke out somewhere between the Shanghai dumplings and the Peking duck carts.

My sister, Stefani, and I are no better on a visit to Texas. On a recent trip, she declared my folks’ favorite restaurant on the River Walk “a waste of a meal.”

My parents have tried for years to get me to eat at Pasha Mediterranean Grill, built in a former Tex-Mex restaurant shaped like a sombrero. They swear it’s better than anything I can get in New York. The conversation usually ends with my rolling my eyes and saying, “We have pita bread in New York, Dad.” He replies, “Not like this you don’t.” And so on until everyone is annoyed.

As the holidays approached, my husband, having endured these fights for three years, encouraged me to use my reporting skills to investigate whether meals bring out the same generational and geographic rifts in other families. Can food, so often portrayed this time of year as the glue that binds a family together, also be the wedge that drives us apart?

Absolutely, said William J. Doherty, a social science professor at the University of Minnesota who writes about family rituals. “Food is physical, psychological and emotional,” he said. “There’s almost nothing like it as both a connector and a divider.” Tensions aired around the table — “a microcosm of family life and social relations” — often lead to broader, more healthy debates, he said. (True. The dim sum fight somehow transformed into a dayslong discussion about our parents’ retirement plans.)

Dr. Doherty suspects that parents in suburban and rural areas harbor unspoken pride in their children’s culinary snobbery. Yes, we can be insufferable to dine with, but we can also afford to eat out and learn about foods that were not available where we grew up. But like working-class parents who sacrificed to send their children to college, only to find that they have little in common, different tastes can also highlight familial growing pains.

“Food is a symptom and a symbol of change and how people grow apart,” said Heather Paxson, an anthropology professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “People want their kids to do better, but there’s also the fear that they’ll be left behind or judged as lacking in some way.”

The reverse can happen to parents who forced their children to eat foie gras and Wagyu. “An adult child can go to one extreme and become an epicure, or say, ‘I want peanut butter and jelly every day,’ ” said Ellyn Satter, a dietitian and family therapist in Madison, Wis.

The generational food gap corresponds to the evolved way many American families eat today, Dr. Paxson said. Baby boomers like my folks largely adopted the frugal dining habits of their World War II-era parents. Dinners were about affordability and efficiency. My parents put dinner on the table each night to feed us, not to enlighten us about edamame and the wonders of a Le Creuset Dutch oven (which my mom now owns and uses often).

“It was part of the day’s routine,” said Marilyn Hagerty, a columnist in Grand Forks, N.D., who gained instant fame this year for her review of a local Olive Garden. “We had to eat. It was nothing we’d all stand around and savor.”

That all changes when children move away. For some, a new social milieu means adopting a vegan diet or giving up carbohydrates, while others, like my brother-in-law, drink only Blue Bottle coffee made in a handblown Chemex coffee maker. My friend Barry Dale says the only thing tougher than telling his Southern parents he was gay was telling them he was gluten free. (He does not have celiac disease.)

Ms. Hagerty’s daughter once worked in Hong Kong, and took her mother on a culinary tour of Shanghai. “I just thought she’d come a long way from the macaroni and cheese and tuna fish and noodles she ate in North Dakota growing up,” Ms. Hagerty said.

All that worldly deliciousness can turn even the most agreeable eaters into arrogant urbanites. But I also learned that within each family, neutral ground exists.

My parents and I completely agree when it comes to San Antonio’s regional Tex-Mex and barbecue spots. Stefani and I desperately miss the flavors of a bean-and-cheese taco from Las Palapas (closed on Sundays “for family and worship”) and bring back jars of Rudy’s barbecue sauce in our suitcases after most visits home.

Ms. Hagerty said that on visits to Grand Forks, her adult children rush to the Red Pepper for its special “grinder” sandwich made with taco meat and white sauce. And each of the children’s kitchens has an aebleskiver pan, a tool Danish cooks use to make the little doughy pancakes that the Hagertys grew up on.

My family has developed some new favorites, but it has not been easy. One of my most heated food fights with my father started at Russ & Daughters, a landmark appetizing shop on the Lower East Side. My dad loved the look of the smoked salmon, chopped liver and dried fruit arranged like artwork behind glass. Then he discovered that the store did not have a toaster oven.

I tried my best to convince him that the bagels were so deliciously fresh they didn’t need to be toasted, but the thought of an untoasted bagel was too much. We left the store screaming at each other.

Years later, now that the shop has a toaster oven, he laughs at what is known in my family as “the toasted bagel incident.”

“The main thing is that we are all together at the same table, and not the food that is on it,” he said.

Still, he’d really like us to try Pasha.


Walking the cobbled streets of Dublin, I had an overwhelming sense of my independence. At 20, I was doing a semester abroad at Trinity, and though I had been on my own for two years at college, this was different. Only then did I realize that I might actually be responsible enough for adulthood.

Two years later, I’m a graduate of Georgetown University living with my parents and occupying a bedroom with a dinosaur blanket and the remains of my middle school Beanie Baby collection.

I am back to the routine I felt I had outgrown in high school, in a room I had outgrown even earlier.

I miss college, I miss my friends being immediately accessible and I miss being able to stack dirty dishes and leave towels around. I miss sleeping in on Saturdays without being awakened by a 75-pound puppy.

Though my parents won’t admit it, the dog, Emmy, was their pre-emptive move to fill their empty nest when they realized their youngest child — my sister — was leaving for college in September. My parents obsess over this dog. If the breeder had offered pre-puppy Lamaze classes, I have no doubt Mom and Dad would have enrolled.

And yet, despite the destruction of every shoe, book and wallet I’ve left within 20 feet of her, Emmy makes the house less lonely, and helps keep us from moping about the reality of our new living situation.

When I’m not teaching the dog the difference between lie and stay, I’m teaching my parents the difference between On Demand and DVRs.

It has become like a project, and I have willingly become the Information Technology instructor. It’s only fair considering my dad always has coffee ready for me in the morning, and my mom still makes me lunch to take to my new, 9-to-5 office job.

When I went away for a weekend, I walked through ordering a movie on demand with my dad at least five times. It was the first weekend since I’d moved back that I was leaving him alone with the TV, and he seemed as if he’d mastered it.

He hadn’t.

I try to maintain the normal social life of a 22-year-old, though I have to contend with the guilt of knowing that my mom’s irrepressible maternal instinct keeps her up until I’m home — sometimes as late as 4 a.m. “I wait because I’m your mother and I never stop being your mother,” she tells me, and it’s hard to argue with that.

It’s been tough realizing that I’m not on summer or Christmas break, that this is indefinite. When I was home from college, my mom cooked my favorite meals and I got a reprieve from household chores. I was the prodigal son returning briefly, whereas now my parents expect me to be an active part of the household.

I should feel stuck — that I’m regressing, or that I’m missing out on the experience of living in a big city on my own — but much to my surprise, I don’t. Indeed, there’s something comforting in my situation. I can experience the frustrations of young adulthood and the infancy of my professional life, and still come back to my dog’s unwavering affection and a home-cooked meal. So during the most jarring transition of my life — from student to graduate — it’s not bad having the stability my childhood home offers.

Certainly I have moments that are demoralizing, times when I am unceremoniously reminded that midday naps are not possible, or that leaving dirty laundry around is no longer acceptable.

At times it gnaws at me that I cannot rely on my youthful potential anymore.

I do not pity myself for long, though, because only a few bedrooms away are my parents, the two people proudest of what I have accomplished, and rooting most for my success.

The adjustment hasn’t been easy for them, either. Their nest should be empty. They could put pressure on me. And yet they tread lightly.

I’m more aware that I enjoy their company now that my brother and sister aren’t around. Instead of small talk and holing myself in my room as I did when I was 17, I discuss books with my dad and watch shows with my mom that I’d be too embarrassed to watch with my friends. The invisible line between parent and child is dissolving while a relationship between adults and a semi-adult is forming.

We decided how to best train our dog, we talk about how well my sister seems to be doing at school and how we wish she would call more, and we discuss current events.

Now that I’m paying attention at dinner, I realize how similar their political views are to mine.

I’ve never shared the opinion that mine is a lost generation, the first doomed by the entitlement-obsessed Boomers. Though we could be the first generation not to surpass the success of our parents, their success serves as a pre-professional safety net, in lieu of the safety net the government may not be able to provide my generation. I’m fortunate that my parents are giving me the time to save money from my modest salary while I’m home. Seeing my mom finally use the television remote successfully all by herself, I realize at least I’m contributing something.

I know this situation is not and should not be permanent, but for now, it helps. I believe I will look back at this time fondly. I am sure that living at home will give me a greater opportunity for success in the future. At nighttime, after I turn out the lights and climb into bed, I have no problem sleeping soundly under my dinosaur blanket.

Aodhan Beirne lives with his parents in Yonkers, but hopes some day to have to make his own lunch for work.


In college, I used to underline sentences that struck me, that made me look up from the page. They were not necessarily the same sentences the professors pointed out, which would turn up for further explication on an exam. I noted them for their clarity, their rhythm, their beauty and their enchantment. For surely it is a magical thing for a handful of words, artfully arranged, to stop time. To conjure a place, a person, a situation, in all its specificity and dimensions. To affect us and alter us, as profoundly as real people and things do.

I remember reading a sentence by Joyce, in the short story “Araby.” It appears toward the beginning. “The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed.” I have never forgotten it. This seems to me as perfect as a sentence can be. It is measured, unguarded, direct and transcendent, all at once. It is full of movement, of imagery. It distills a precise mood. It radiates with meaning and yet its sensibility is discreet.

When I am experiencing a complex story or novel, the broader planes, and also details, tend to fall away. Rereading them, certain sentences are what greet me as familiars. You have visited before, they say when I recognize them. We encounter books at different times in life, often appreciating them, apprehending them, in different ways. But their language is constant. The best sentences orient us, like stars in the sky, like landmarks on a trail.

They remain the test, whether or not to read something. The most compelling narrative, expressed in sentences with which I have no chemical reaction, or an adverse one, leaves me cold. In fiction, plenty do the job of conveying information, rousing suspense, painting characters, enabling them to speak. But only certain sentences breathe and shift about, like live matter in soil. The first sentence of a book is a handshake, perhaps an embrace. Style and personality are irrelevant. They can be formal or casual. They can be tall or short or fat or thin. They can obey the rules or break them. But they need to contain a charge. A live current, which shocks and illuminates.

Knowing — and learning to read in — a foreign tongue heightens and complicates my relationship to sentences. For some time now, I have been reading predominantly in Italian. I experience these novels and stories differently. I take no sentence for granted. I am more conscious of them. I work harder to know them. I pause to look something up, I puzzle over syntax I am still assimilating. Each sentence yields a twin, translated version of itself. When the filter of a second language falls away, my connection to these sentences, though more basic, feels purer, at times more intimate, than when I read in English.

The urge to convert experience into a group of words that are in a grammatical relation to one another is the most basic, ongoing impulse of my life. It is a habit of antiphony: of call and response. Most days begin with sentences that are typed into a journal no one has ever seen. There is a freedom to this; freedom to write what I will not proceed to wrestle with. The entries are mostly quotidian, a warming up of the fingers and brain. On days when I am troubled, when I am grieved, when I am at a loss for words, the mechanics of formulating sentences, and of stockpiling them in a vault, is the only thing that centers me again.

Constructing a sentence is the equivalent of taking a Polaroid snapshot: pressing the button, and watching something emerge. To write one is to document and to develop at the same time. Not all sentences end up in novels or stories. But novels and stories consist of nothing but. Sentences are the bricks as well as the mortar, the motor as well as the fuel. They are the cells, the individual stitches. Their nature is at once solitary and social. Sentences establish tone, and set the pace. One in front of the other marks the way.

My work accrues sentence by sentence. After an initial phase of sitting patiently, not so patiently, struggling to locate them, to pin them down, they begin arriving, fully formed in my brain. I tend to hear them as I am drifting off to sleep. They are spoken to me, I’m not sure by whom. By myself, I know, though the source feels independent, recondite, especially at the start. The light will be turned on, a sentence or two will be hastily scribbled on a scrap of paper, carried upstairs to the manuscript in the morning. I hear sentences as I’m staring out the window, or chopping vegetables, or waiting on a subway platform alone. They are pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, handed to me in no particular order, with no discernible logic. I only sense that they are part of the thing.

Over time, virtually each sentence I receive and record in this haphazard manner will be sorted, picked over, organized, changed. Most will be dispensed with. All the revision I do — and this process begins immediately, accompanying the gestation — occurs on a sentence level. It is by fussing with sentences that a character becomes clear to me, that a plot unfolds. To work on them so compulsively, perhaps prematurely, is to see the trees before the forest. And yet I am incapable of conceiving the forest any other way.

As a book or story nears completion, I grow acutely, obsessively conscious of each sentence in the text. They enter into the blood. They seem to replace it, for a while. When something is in proofs I sit in solitary confinement with them. Each is confronted, inspected, turned inside out. Each is sentenced, literally, to be part of the text, or not. Such close scrutiny can lead to blindness. At times — and these times terrify — they cease to make sense. When a book is finally out of my hands I feel bereft. It is the absence of all those sentences that had circulated through me for a period of my life. A complex root system, extracted.

Even printed, on pages that are bound, sentences remain unsettled organisms. Years later, I can always reach out to smooth a stray hair. And yet, at a certain point, I must walk away, trusting them to do their work. I am left looking over my shoulder, wondering if I might have structured one more effectively. This is why I avoid reading the books I’ve written. Why, when I must, I approach the book as a stranger, and pretend the sentences were written by someone else.

Jhumpa Lahiri is the author of “Unaccustomed Earth,” “The Namesake” and “Interpreter of Maladies.”

This is the first article in Draft, a new series about the art and craft of writing.

LATELY I’ve been hearing a lot about 20-somethings who are too eager to tell all at work. Whether they are recounting their drunken exploits or their external job searches, their tendency to provide too much information is leaving many managers scratching their heads.

A human resources manager for a manufacturing company told me that several young workers had asked her how many times they could be absent before she fired them. An H.R. manager at a health care business was taken aback when an employee casually told him she was looking for a new job that should take six to eight months to land. And a senior manager, asking a direct report how he was doing, was treated to this: “Well, I haven’t had sex for five years, so I guess I’m not doing so good.”

Granted, as a card-carrying baby boomer, I have an opinion on this topic that might be more than a little skewed, but I honestly can’t recall a time when I’ve walked away from a conversation with someone of my generation or even a decade or two younger and thought, “Whoa, did you really say that?” Mostly I see this happening with young people who seem to have lost all sense of boundaries and decorum. Recently, however, I’ve heard a lot of professionals complain that the problem increasingly crosses generations.

One chief executive of a small company, upon congratulating her colleague on becoming a grandmother, received a blow-by-blow account of the daughter’s birthing ordeal, from the progressive state of the expanding cervix to processing the placenta.

So why are more and more people oversharing personal information?

One explanation is that it’s a continuation of online behavior, or, as I like to say, Facebook in your face. Social media have made it the norm to tell everybody everything. The problem is that people are forgetting where they are (at work, not a bar or a chat room) and whom they’re talking to (bosses, clients, colleagues and the public, not their buddies). And even if they know it’s inappropriate to share certain personal information in a business setting, they do it anyway because everyone else does. So they think it must be O.K. (it’s not), and they think that their boss and colleagues are really interested (they’re not).

MANY people blame narcissistic baby-boomer parents for raising children with an overblown sense of worth, who believe that everything they say or think should be shared. When I told a British colleague that many Americans were starting to realize that they reveal way too much about themselves, he gave a full-throated laugh and said, “Finally!”

Others attribute the problem to people’s desperate need for connection. The workplace has become our second home, the place where we spend a majority of our waking hours, so we want to make it as comfortable as possible, which often leads to a lot of sharing. We forget that it’s necessary to maintain a certain level of professionalism.

I’m not saying we stop talking to one another about anything not related to work. I’m a big proponent of bringing the best parts of your personality into the workplace. Sharing some personal information is crucial to building trust and to forging relationships. It also makes working much more enjoyable.

But I think that some rules will help us control our O.S.D., or obsessive sharing disorder. Before you open your mouth about your personal life, ask yourself these questions:

• Who’s listening to me (a boss, a client, a colleague or a friend)?

• Why am I sharing this? What’s the point?

• In this situation, would less be better?

• Have I left my emotional baggage outside the door?

• Does what I am sharing benefit my career or the quality of my work relationships?

You can’t tell me that bragging about your drinking binges to your colleagues or boss will improve your reputation or further your career. Nor can you convince me that my department functions better by knowing that you’re disgruntled and looking for a new job.

I don’t think I’m the exception here. Your 40-, 50- and even 60-year-old bosses — and there are still many of them — very likely feel the same way. Decency, common sense and just plain good manners will never go out of style. But, if they do, I hope I’m retired.

Peggy Klaus is an author, executive coach and leader of corporate training programs.

LIKE Havana, only more so, the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, is bereft of commercial billboards but covered with propaganda posters. In recent years, however, one company has been allowed to advertise its products: Pyonghwa Motors, a joint venture between the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s South Korea-based Unification Church and North Korea’s state-run Ryonbong General Corporation. A few signs promoting the company’s Whistle sedan can be seen in Pyongyang and surrounding areas. Essentially a Hyundai, the Whistle is an increasingly common sight on Pyongyang streets, along with a growing number of BMW, Lexus, Mercedes, Nissan and other luxury and nonluxury vehicles, many privately owned.

Once notable for the absence of traffic (not to mention a lack of streetlights), Pyongyang is a much busier and visibly more affluent city than it was just a few years ago. The source of this new wealth is something of a mystery, but presumably Chinese trade and investment account for a good part of it. With its residents dressed mostly in Western-style clothing and clutching mobile phones, Pyongyang today looks more like a tidy Chinese provincial city than the spartan capital of the world’s last Stalinist state. Under its new ruler, “Respected Leader” Kim Jong-un, North Korea is clearly on the move.

But moving where, exactly? Some analysts say that North Korea is on the verge of collapse; others say it is on the verge of serious economic reform. To judge from what I saw during a trip to North Korea in July, the reality is less momentous: a change in the face of the leadership and of the capital city, but not of policy. The status quo remains and is unlikely to change any time soon.

There is no doubt, though, that this is Kim Jong-un’s regime. When I visited North Korea in 2011, before the death of Kim Jong-un’s father, “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il, the official propaganda only obliquely suggested that Kim Jong-un was the heir apparent. In my recent visit, I saw slogans extolling the new leader everywhere: “Long Live Great Leader Comrade Kim Jong-un!” “Long Live Kim Jong-un, Sun of Military-First Korea!” and more ominously, “Follow Great Leader Kim Jong-un to Final Victory!”

Kim Jong-un has already proven himself to be a much more visible and publicly engaged leader than his more reticent father; he appears a natural politician in the mold of his still-revered grandfather, Kim Il-sung, North Korea’s founding leader. The regime is clearly trying to cultivate that image, as if to make the North Korean people forget the famine and other failures of the Kim Jong-il era and relive the hopeful and relatively well-off era of Kim Il-sung, who died in 1994. Even Kim Jong-un’s appearance, including the Mao suit, paunch and short-sided haircut, seems deliberately designed to make him resemble Kim Il-sung when he came to power in the 1940s.

But Kim Jong-un’s public image gives little indication of the political and economic policies his regime will follow. He is distancing himself from his father’s power circle, especially the military old guard to whom Kim Jong-il was much beholden; it is possible that by reducing the influence of the military he is preparing the way for major economic reform, something the military has long resisted. But at the moment, there is scant evidence that serious reform is in the cards.

This is not say that the North Korean economy is unchanging. Pyongyang is more visibly affluent in part because of a tremendous effort to improve the city for the 100th anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birth this past April. According to foreign diplomatic sources, universities were closed for the entire 2011-12 academic year as students were mobilized for construction. Impressively modern 45-story apartment blocks have just gone up; residents were still moving in during my visit. Kim Jong-un, apparently a big fan of amusement parks, has overseen the renovation of several fun fairs and the construction of a new water park, complete with a dolphin circus. While much of this change is a result of classic Stakhanovite labor mobilization, the market economy is increasingly visible as well, most literally in the form of the large and crowded public markets, where most consumer goods are now purchased.

On the other hand, the contrast between the relative affluence of the capital and the continuing poverty in the countryside is truly striking. On the bumpy six-hour bus ride from Pyongyang to the industrial city of Hamhung on the east coast, there were a fair number of Chinese-built trucks but hardly any private vehicles (and long stretches with no cars at all). Locally made vehicles consisted mostly of battered, slow-moving pickup trucks retrofitted to run by burning wood. Farm vehicles were almost entirely absent. Poorly dressed, unkempt children could occasionally be seen sleeping on the empty highway.

One wonders at what point a population increasingly connected by mobile phones and exposed, albeit clandestinely, to information from China and South Korea will question the regime’s claim to be a “Powerful and Prosperous Country.” But North Korea can most likely muddle through for some time to come.

Change in North Korea can feel like more of the same. Throughout the country, hundreds of “Eternal Life Monuments,” erected in 1997 on the third anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s death, once said “The Great Leader Comrade Kim Il-sung Will Always Be With Us.” Now sign-makers are busily altering the monuments’ stone facades to say “The Great Leader Comrade Kim Il-sung and Comrade Kim Jong-il Will Always Be With Us.” If nothing else, sign alteration in North Korea constitutes a public-works project of immense proportions. A 65-foot-tall bronze statue of Kim Jong-il now stands alongside the equally tall statue of his father in Pyongyang. Posters announce a new ideology, “Kim Il-sung-Kim Jong-il-ism.”

Kim Jong-un is said to be ruling according to the “last will and testament of Kim Jong-il.” How he interprets this legacy is the central question for the future of North Korea. But for now, there are few signs of change, even if the signs themselves are changing.

Charles K. Armstrong, a professor of history and the director of the Center for Korean Research at Columbia University, is the author of a forthcoming book on North Korea in the cold war era.


Here’s my illustration for The New York Times Sunday Business section! It goes with an article in the career column titled Balancing Your Vacation and a Busy Office. Such a fun project.

Thanks to AD Minh Uong for the assignment and wonderful art direction.


I grew up as an only child, with a single mother. Because we were poor and because I knew my father had emigrated from Syria, I imagined he looked like Omar Sharif. I hoped he would be rich and kind and would come into our lives (and our not yet furnished apartment) and help us. Later, after I’d met my father, I tried to believe he’d changed his number and left no forwarding address because he was an idealistic revolutionary, plotting a new world for the Arab people.

Even as a feminist, my whole life I’d been waiting for a man to love, who could love me. For decades, I’d thought that man would be my father. When I was 25, I met that man and he was my brother.

By then, I lived in New York, where I was trying to write my first novel. I had a job at a small magazine in an office the size of a closet, with three other aspiring writers. When one day a lawyer called me — me, the middle-class girl from California who hassled the boss to buy us health insurance — and said his client was rich and famous and was my long-lost brother, the young editors went wild. This was 1985 and we worked at a cutting-edge literary magazine, but I’d fallen into the plot of a Dickens novel and really, we all loved those best. The lawyer refused to tell me my brother’s name and my colleagues started a betting pool. The leading candidate: John Travolta. I secretly hoped for a literary descendant of Henry James — someone more talented than I, someone brilliant without even trying.

When I met Steve, he was a guy my age in jeans, Arab- or Jewish-looking and handsomer than Omar Sharif.

We took a long walk — something, it happened, that we both liked to do. I don’t remember much of what we said that first day, only that he felt like someone I’d pick to be a friend. He explained that he worked in computers.

I didn’t know much about computers. I still worked on a manual Olivetti typewriter.

I told Steve I’d recently considered my first purchase of a computer: something called the Cromemco.

Steve told me it was a good thing I’d waited. He said he was making something that was going to be insanely beautiful.

I want to tell you a few things I learned from Steve, during three distinct periods, over the 27 years I knew him. They’re not periods of years, but of states of being. His full life. His illness. His dying.

Steve worked at what he loved. He worked really hard. Every day.

That’s incredibly simple, but true.

He was the opposite of absent-minded.

He was never embarrassed about working hard, even if the results were failures. If someone as smart as Steve wasn’t ashamed to admit trying, maybe I didn’t have to be.

When he got kicked out of Apple, things were painful. He told me about a dinner at which 500 Silicon Valley leaders met the then-sitting president. Steve hadn’t been invited.

He was hurt but he still went to work at Next. Every single day.

Novelty was not Steve’s highest value. Beauty was.

For an innovator, Steve was remarkably loyal. If he loved a shirt, he’d order 10 or 100 of them. In the Palo Alto house, there are probably enough black cotton turtlenecks for everyone in this church.

He didn’t favor trends or gimmicks. He liked people his own age.

His philosophy of aesthetics reminds me of a quote that went something like this: “Fashion is what seems beautiful now but looks ugly later; art can be ugly at first but it becomes beautiful later.”

Steve always aspired to make beautiful later.

He was willing to be misunderstood.

Uninvited to the ball, he drove the third or fourth iteration of his same black sports car to Next, where he and his team were quietly inventing the platform on which Tim Berners-Lee would write the program for the World Wide Web.

Steve was like a girl in the amount of time he spent talking about love. Love was his supreme virtue, his god of gods. He tracked and worried about the romantic lives of the people working with him.

Whenever he saw a man he thought a woman might find dashing, he called out, “Hey are you single? Do you wanna come to dinner with my sister?”

I remember when he phoned the day he met Laurene. “There’s this beautiful woman and she’s really smart and she has this dog and I’m going to marry her.”

When Reed was born, he began gushing and never stopped. He was a physical dad, with each of his children. He fretted over Lisa’s boyfriends and Erin’s travel and skirt lengths and Eve’s safety around the horses she adored.

None of us who attended Reed’s graduation party will ever forget the scene of Reed and Steve slow dancing.

His abiding love for Laurene sustained him. He believed that love happened all the time, everywhere. In that most important way, Steve was never ironic, never cynical, never pessimistic. I try to learn from that, still.

Steve had been successful at a young age, and he felt that had isolated him. Most of the choices he made from the time I knew him were designed to dissolve the walls around him. A middle-class boy from Los Altos, he fell in love with a middle-class girl from New Jersey. It was important to both of them to raise Lisa, Reed, Erin and Eve as grounded, normal children. Their house didn’t intimidate with art or polish; in fact, for many of the first years I knew Steve and Lo together, dinner was served on the grass, and sometimes consisted of just one vegetable. Lots of that one vegetable. But one. Broccoli. In season. Simply prepared. With just the right, recently snipped, herb.

Even as a young millionaire, Steve always picked me up at the airport. He’d be standing there in his jeans.

When a family member called him at work, his secretary Linetta answered, “Your dad’s in a meeting. Would you like me to interrupt him?”

When Reed insisted on dressing up as a witch every Halloween, Steve, Laurene, Erin and Eve all went wiccan.

They once embarked on a kitchen remodel; it took years. They cooked on a hotplate in the garage. The Pixar building, under construction during the same period, finished in half the time. And that was it for the Palo Alto house. The bathrooms stayed old. But — and this was a crucial distinction — it had been a great house to start with; Steve saw to that.

This is not to say that he didn’t enjoy his success: he enjoyed his success a lot, just minus a few zeros. He told me how much he loved going to the Palo Alto bike store and gleefully realizing he could afford to buy the best bike there.

And he did.

Steve was humble. Steve liked to keep learning.

Once, he told me if he’d grown up differently, he might have become a mathematician. He spoke reverently about colleges and loved walking around the Stanford campus. In the last year of his life, he studied a book of paintings by Mark Rothko, an artist he hadn’t known about before, thinking of what could inspire people on the walls of a future Apple campus.

Steve cultivated whimsy. What other C.E.O. knows the history of English and Chinese tea roses and has a favorite David Austin rose?

He had surprises tucked in all his pockets. I’ll venture that Laurene will discover treats — songs he loved, a poem he cut out and put in a drawer — even after 20 years of an exceptionally close marriage. I spoke to him every other day or so, but when I opened The New York Times and saw a feature on the company’s patents, I was still surprised and delighted to see a sketch for a perfect staircase.

With his four children, with his wife, with all of us, Steve had a lot of fun.

He treasured happiness.

Then, Steve became ill and we watched his life compress into a smaller circle. Once, he’d loved walking through Paris. He’d discovered a small handmade soba shop in Kyoto. He downhill skied gracefully. He cross-country skied clumsily. No more.

Eventually, even ordinary pleasures, like a good peach, no longer appealed to him.

Yet, what amazed me, and what I learned from his illness, was how much was still left after so much had been taken away.

I remember my brother learning to walk again, with a chair. After his liver transplant, once a day he would get up on legs that seemed too thin to bear him, arms pitched to the chair back. He’d push that chair down the Memphis hospital corridor towards the nursing station and then he’d sit down on the chair, rest, turn around and walk back again. He counted his steps and, each day, pressed a little farther.

Laurene got down on her knees and looked into his eyes.

“You can do this, Steve,” she said. His eyes widened. His lips pressed into each other.

He tried. He always, always tried, and always with love at the core of that effort. He was an intensely emotional man.

I realized during that terrifying time that Steve was not enduring the pain for himself. He set destinations: his son Reed’s graduation from high school, his daughter Erin’s trip to Kyoto, the launching of a boat he was building on which he planned to take his family around the world and where he hoped he and Laurene would someday retire.

Even ill, his taste, his discrimination and his judgment held. He went through 67 nurses before finding kindred spirits and then he completely trusted the three who stayed with him to the end. Tracy. Arturo. Elham.

One time when Steve had contracted a tenacious pneumonia his doctor forbid everything — even ice. We were in a standard I.C.U. unit. Steve, who generally disliked cutting in line or dropping his own name, confessed that this once, he’d like to be treated a little specially.

I told him: Steve, this is special treatment.

He leaned over to me, and said: “I want it to be a little more special.”

Intubated, when he couldn’t talk, he asked for a notepad. He sketched devices to hold an iPad in a hospital bed. He designed new fluid monitors and x-ray equipment. He redrew that not-quite-special-enough hospital unit. And every time his wife walked into the room, I watched his smile remake itself on his face.

For the really big, big things, you have to trust me, he wrote on his sketchpad. He looked up. You have to.

By that, he meant that we should disobey the doctors and give him a piece of ice.

None of us knows for certain how long we’ll be here. On Steve’s better days, even in the last year, he embarked upon projects and elicited promises from his friends at Apple to finish them. Some boat builders in the Netherlands have a gorgeous stainless steel hull ready to be covered with the finishing wood. His three daughters remain unmarried, his two youngest still girls, and he’d wanted to walk them down the aisle as he’d walked me the day of my wedding.

We all — in the end — die in medias res. In the middle of a story. Of many stories.

I suppose it’s not quite accurate to call the death of someone who lived with cancer for years unexpected, but Steve’s death was unexpected for us.

What I learned from my brother’s death was that character is essential: What he was, was how he died.

Tuesday morning, he called me to ask me to hurry up to Palo Alto. His tone was affectionate, dear, loving, but like someone whose luggage was already strapped onto the vehicle, who was already on the beginning of his journey, even as he was sorry, truly deeply sorry, to be leaving us.

He started his farewell and I stopped him. I said, “Wait. I’m coming. I’m in a taxi to the airport. I’ll be there.”

“I’m telling you now because I’m afraid you won’t make it on time, honey.”

When I arrived, he and his Laurene were joking together like partners who’d lived and worked together every day of their lives. He looked into his children’s eyes as if he couldn’t unlock his gaze.

Until about 2 in the afternoon, his wife could rouse him, to talk to his friends from Apple.

Then, after awhile, it was clear that he would no longer wake to us.

His breathing changed. It became severe, deliberate, purposeful. I could feel him counting his steps again, pushing farther than before.

This is what I learned: he was working at this, too. Death didn’t happen to Steve, he achieved it.

He told me, when he was saying goodbye and telling me he was sorry, so sorry we wouldn’t be able to be old together as we’d always planned, that he was going to a better place.

Dr. Fischer gave him a 50/50 chance of making it through the night.

He made it through the night, Laurene next to him on the bed sometimes jerked up when there was a longer pause between his breaths. She and I looked at each other, then he would heave a deep breath and begin again.

This had to be done. Even now, he had a stern, still handsome profile, the profile of an absolutist, a romantic. His breath indicated an arduous journey, some steep path, altitude.

He seemed to be climbing.

But with that will, that work ethic, that strength, there was also sweet Steve’s capacity for wonderment, the artist’s belief in the ideal, the still more beautiful later.

Steve’s final words, hours earlier, were monosyllables, repeated three times.

Before embarking, he’d looked at his sister Patty, then for a long time at his children, then at his life’s partner, Laurene, and then over their shoulders past them.

Steve’s final words were:


Mona Simpson is a novelist and a professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles. She delivered this eulogy for her brother, Steve Jobs, on Oct. 16 at his memorial service at the Memorial Church of Stanford University.

Canvas  by  andbamnan